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The Crying Game II

Posted 10/1/2009 2:38pm by Catskill Merino.

The Monday before last we put the ewe flock (~200 hd.) into a new 7 acre paddock, their last rotation of the year as growth slows this time of the year;  the forage was 4' tall and weedy with golden rod and other late-season growth.  A Cornell Cooperative Extension agent had come out to look at the pastures; after walking through the brushy paddock, she said, "Yes, let the sheep in here, they'll eat what they want and leave the rest."

But what scared me about that paddock was its height; I couldn't see what was in there and when the sheep entered it I wouldn't be able to see them when they moved away from the fence lines that had been cut the day before with a roaring 15' rotary cutter behind a 125 HP John Deere tractor.  I hoped the noise of the farm machinery would tell any unseen predators in the brush that man was coming and they should "be gone!"

Weedy Paddock 

Tuesday morning when Dominique arrived at the farm she noticed that 30 odd ewes had knocked the fence down, gone over it and were in another paddock—this meant trouble—inside the brushy paddock, she found the rest of the flock; they were agitated.   She saw  that 313 had been  severely maimed. She called and I rushed over with Poem.  Forensically, I wanted to know what she'd come upon, where the sheep were, where the fence was down, where 313 was bitten, where in the paddock had the attack occurred, and most importantly were there other victims of the attack.

On command Poem gathered the flock to us as she does and we looked everybody over as they milled around us; at that time, we saw no other victims.  313 was off to the side hobbling;  I called Poem away and we loaded the ewe into the back of the truck; Dominique got in and held her for the bumpy ride back to the barn where I could more closely examine and treat her.

Based on the evidence: that 313 was bitten in the hind quarters, that only one sheep was attacked,  that the she had been bitten many times and not killed, that the attack lasted 10-20 minutes I  determined  that the attack was by a dog not a coyote.

Horror of horrors, it looked like we may have fenced a dog into the paddock with the sheep—in the 3 1/2 years on this property this was the first predator attack—there have been no fence transgressions.   My electric fences are considered the most effective  type of fence at keeping coyotes and dogs out; but unfortunately, they would be equally effective at keeping them in, and this is what probably happened as the ewes had been in an adjacent paddock for the last 3 weeks having had no problems there.

The dog was gone when we got there, it probably got out where the fence was down.  I supposed  (hoped) it got hit by the fence while trying to escape and this shock(s) would discourage it from coming back—only time would tell if I was correct.  It was late in the day; I had no place to put the ewes but based on the facts as I sifted them, I decided to keep the sheep where they were.  Yes, this was a gamble, but it was the only bet I had.

My rifle and hand guns hadn't been cleaned for years; I might need  them now.  I drove to a late-night gun store to buy solvent, oil & patches; and I bought ammunition for my stainless steel .357 SP101 Ruger revolver; I loaded it and drove back to the paddock at nightfall, the time when predators stalk and kill.  I wasn't going there to kill—doubting the dog would return so soon and in daylight—I was going there to make noise; .357 's are loud hand guns.  My purpose was to shoot and scare away all bad guys within earshot.  I fired rounds into the ground pointing the revolver at the points of the compass directing the gun-sound 360 degrees.  The sheep looked at me like I was crazy—round and round I went in my death-defying dance—then with hope in my heart and an empty gun in my hand I bid the girls good night, Poem and I drove home.  I slept well; what would happen would happen, I had done what I could.  But  at dawn when we  headed back to the paddock—getting closer and closer—my heart  began to pound as loudly as my .357.  When I saw them, the ewes were quiet and chewing their cuds with that dreamy look in their eyes; I felt silly, but I felt good like I'd  survived a natural disaster. 

Just driving up to the paddock and honking the horn may have worked as well as firing my revolver there; but I like to shoot the .357.  With the hammer cocked the slightest pressure pulls the custom trigger; it is incredibly accurate for having a 2" barrel and it really kicks. Morning and night, for several days, I went there and shot up the ground, firing in all directions, seeing myself playing drums of the spheres, "POP, pop-POP, pop-POP"  or "pop-POP-pop, POP, pop," I varried my 5 shot tattoo.  The dog hasn't come back, maybe I was right, maybe the fences are still effective, or maybe it wanted nothing to do with the beat of my dancing gun.

Next: Another victim.